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Ode to a Bad Teacher

I may as well confess this. I had a terrible English teacher for my Junior Cert. Now, we have all had bad teachers; unfortunately all education systems have their bad teachers along with highly gifted teachers. I have had some wonderful educators that have influenced my life profoundly for the right reasons. I have had some teachers who were just bad at their job. But one teacher takes the award for the worst teacher I have ever endured.
This particular bad apple left me with a terrible wound in my self confidence; a wound that has yet to heal fully. See the thing is due to her, I have absolutely no confidence in being able to write. Even though I managed to get 95% for my English Leaving Certificate Essay, a first class degree in Law and I am currently writing a Ph.D. in Law.
You would think that these facts alone would be cause for comfort in my ability to write as Law revolves around the ability to write and communicate clearly and effectively. But alas no, I still have one particular voice in my head that constantly replays doubts that were created by her.
Also at this point, I must state that I am borderline dyslexic. This fact was not diagnosed until my Masters in Trinity College. This fact should have been easily spotted by this teacher in first year of secondary school as one of the exercises involved re-arranging misspelt words to their right spelling. This was something that I just could not do for the life of me and still can’t do at this stage.
However the day that scarred me involved some trivial written work. I’m not even sure what we were doing exactly but it ended with the teacher shouting at me in front of the whole class that I was so bad at English that I would not be able to pass pass grade English.
I was slow at writing stories. I found it hard to string a pointless narrative about some biddy going to the shop together. I was weak at this and I will admit it. But I always tried my best. My parents were aware that something was wrong and even asked the teacher for names of extra books so they could work on these problems at home with me in addition to the school work. She told them at a parent teacher meeting that there was no point as I wasn’t any good at English to begin with.
Anyway, between the jigs and the reels of it, from that outburst when I was 15 I have always had her outburst about “not even being able to pass pass English” as a repetitive voice in my head whenever I write anything. Maybe I’m oversensitive; maybe I just need to get over it but it’s still there like a spectre haunting my path.
Therefore to anyone in the teaching profession dealing with young minds please be cautious of the way to criticise students. You never know what damage you may cause…

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2 thoughts on “Ode to a Bad Teacher

  1. Mairead Ni Lorcain says:

    I am flabbergasted at the teacher’s comment. I was an English teacher all my life. i would always suggest that the student try harder, read more etc. One never pulled down the shutters. I have heard adults say many times that a teacher once told them they would ‘never amount to anything’. I have always been profoundly shocked by this. I attended three different schools myself and taught in three more. I never encountered anyone whom I could imagine saying anything like that.I have even wondered whether the tone was misinterpreted. Maybe I’m just naive.
    I remember an incident once where a mother accused me of telling her daughter that she had neither style or flair. I nearly collapsed. I frequently said to higher level pupils ‘One needs to have style and flair for LC higher’. There is a vast difference between ‘You have no…’ and ‘One needs to have…’ I remember being so upset and being consoled by colleagues who knew it just was not me to say that. The pronoun ‘one’ is a stranger to many I’ve discovered. Thinking back decades later, it could be what Brenda Power of the Sunday Times calls ‘the hair trigger wrath of the enthusiastically offended’.
    By the way, the essay above on romantic Ireland was outstanding. I seldom got such a well informed piece of writing from a 17 year old. In 35 years I still recall the names of the very few girls who could write to this standard. The average student could bore for Ireland.
    I have always been interested in the subject of dyslexia. I did the Dept of Ed. course in Learning Support just to try to get to the bottom of this mystery. I didn’t. There were simply no answers given. Lots of people think they have answers. There is a huge industry here which I feel exploits worried parents and students. I feel research has a long way to go. We have only scratched the surface of what we know about this problem. I have been particularly concerned about stories such as the one claiming Einstein was dyslexic. He had read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason at age 13. The list of celebrity dyslexics grows hourly. I’m waiting for Shakespeare and Joyce to appear any day.
    I have no answer to this spelling problem. I have tried everything in my time. I have wondered were students with this problem on the impulsive side. Many of them disliked pausing and considering things. They just wanted to get things out of the way quickly.’Diagnosing’ dyslexia is hugely, hugely problematic. It did not exist as a topic when I did my H.Dip in 1970. Once I sat beside a Dept of Ed psychologist at a meeting of learning support teachers when the topic was being discussed. She whispered to me ‘It’s very rare’. I have never forgotten this. Why did she whisper? On another occasion I was discussing with the psychologist assigned to my school whether I should put ‘dyslexic’ as the reason for a child’s application for reasonable accomodation at the J. C. She answered ‘If you want to call it that’. I thought this bizarre.It struck me that people are afraid to state anything that is counter to the received wisdom concerning dyslexia.
    I am now retired and still sending away to Amazon for books on the subject. Maybe before I die I will become enlightened. Meanwhile bon courage. Your writing is stylish in the extreme.

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